• Print

Nabokov & American Literature

In response to:

The Nabokovs in Love from the January 14, 2016 issue

To the Editors:

The hot exchange of mortar fire between Brian Boyd and Stacy Schiff [“Letters,” NYR, January 14] occasioned by Schiff’s review of Boyd and Olga Voronina’s Letters to Véra [NYR, November 19, 2015] put me in mind of the salted earth campaign conducted by Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson in the Sixties, when the two authors went to war over Nabokov’s translation of Eugene Onegin.

As a next-generation biographer of Nabokov, I felt a little like a kid at the dinner table, ducking crockery as Ma and Pa argued over the price of tomatoes while hinting at old wounds and seething peeves.

Inadvertently, I’m sure, Boyd found himself defending my book Nabokov in America, on the grounds that Schiff in her review of it distorted it to mean that Nabokov upon his arrival in the US was “largely ignorant of non-European” literature, specifically of American literature. My book if it does nothing else shows how astute and original were Nabokov’s readings in American literature. He treasured some American authors (Poe, Mayne Reid) beginning in his Russian youth and came to others later (Melville, Salinger). His range and recall of texts were astonishing, and some of his greatest postwar books are eerily full of native American resonances, making his simple claims (“I am trying to be an American writer,” “I am as American as April in Arizona”) unsimple truths.

Robert Roper
Berkeley, California